Note: This review was for the BETA of World of Warcraft Battle for Azeroth. Do note that some things MAY change upon the expansion’s actual release
For any long time players of World of Warcraft, the new expansion, Battle for Azeroth feels like coming back home after a long and arduous journey. As the seventh expansion of WoW, one might expect that the game has become wildly overcomplicated with so many things added since it’s vanilla version. That said, this reviewer politely disagrees and would argue that the game is more or less a showcase of everything Blizzard has learned in its’ fourteen year run of this game. World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth feels like, more than anything, a distillation of what has always been fun and loved in this world.
Story and Lore
It’s been twenty-three years since the story of Warcraft was started. Since then, the basic plot has been known as the battle for dominance and survival between the Alliance and the Horde, the two major factions that have the major races of the land populating their ranks. What has been sprinkled in between all of those earlier games though, were hints of a greater and more threatening evil that lurks behind the bitter rivalries of these two factions. Since those days, and with every subsequent expansion, the evils that lurk behind the shadows had been slowly emerging and affecting the world in large and brutal ways. Slowly but surely the battle between these two groups were becoming secondary compared to the bigger threats that were starting to reveal themselves.
As the stories of the different WoW games unfolded, the Horde and the Alliance started working together to deal with these greater threats such as such as Arthas, Deathwing, and Kil’Jaeden. This was one of the points of disagreement of some of the long-time fans of Warcraft as they felt that this was a distraction from what was meant to be the main plot of the story. Though the fight between the Alliance and Horde was always present, it rode backseat to the main storylines of the game. This all culminated in last year’s expansion, Legion, where the truce between these two great groups was severed for particularly fair but misunderstood reasons. After this last great threat was abolished, players were excited the escalation of the aged feud between these groups was visible in the horizon.
Much more like the old days, the current storyline of Battle for Azeroth revolves around the pure, unbridled battle between the Alliance and the Horde, the two factions you can choose from within the game. What’s wonderful about this storyline is that both factions feel perfectly justified with how they’re acting. It actually makes one who’s aware of the story throughout the past expansions feel disappointed of what could have been if these two groups only learned how to get along. Alas, this is not what transpired, and World of Warcraft is made more interesting because of it.
The battle between the Alliance and the Horde still has the dominance over Azeroth as its’ main goal. To get there, the new plot device Azerite is introduced, which is a byproduct of the damage done to Azeroth in the last expansion after it’s great villain, Sargeras, pierced a gigantic sword into the planet.
In the damage left by this continent sized sword, the world bleeds Azerite. Control over this material is crucial in this war as it is a very promising power source for the soldiers and war machines of Azeroth. It is not surprising to see then these two great groups moving heaven and earth to get a greater stockpile of this material than their enemy.
What else can this new object of war do? What are the ramifications of using it? As the this is literally the blood of the planet seeping out of a stab wound made by an evil demonic power, what can our heroes do heal this wound while taking advantage of this product as much as possible to further the war efforts of their faction? It’s things like this that make it very apparent that Blizzard is definitely not thinking of this as just some throwaway plot device to give the Alliance and the Horde something to fight over.
With all of that said, the best thing about the writing in World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth, is that it remains consistent with the quality and legacy of all the previous games. That is to say that world is still filled with dire yet exciting situations that always needs to be addressed by you, the adventurer. These great events have around them a colorful cast of characters, changed and evolved by years and years of development within the storyline. The new storyline arc is compelling and riveting as it continues the conflict in the relationships of the characters, not only within their own factions, but against their enemies as well.
If you’ve never played World of Warcraft and you’re curious about it, this is a good expansion to start in. WoW has always offered something new gameplay wise in every expansion. With that said, because of the thoughtful rules in game design that Blizzard have set upon themselves, you’ll never have to worry too much about the added mechanics in each of the expansions as they usually exist only in those expansions and were never really carried over in the subsequent ones.
The core mechanics of the game has also been retooled and simplified not just to cater to new possible players, but also to reduce the clutter and overcomplications that returning players have experienced. Rest assured new players of the game will have an easier time adapting to the full experience of the game by the time they max out their characters as compared to the experience in past games.
One of the core new things added into the game is the Heart of Azerite. Much like the relic weapon system in the Legion expansion, this is just another way to add customizable modifiers to the skills and abilities in your character. These upgrades allow for more customizability in how you want to play your character as they improve the extent of things that your skills and abilities you can do. It might sound very complicated, but it’s not necessarily required. This might feel more like end game material as you will not have access to the Heart of Azerite until you reach the portion in the main quest line that gives you this. That might mean that new players that are starting from scratch won’t be able to experience this until much later in their own personal playthroughs, which might take a while.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, there are still many different ways to have fun in the game. The new quests added into the game to compliment the storyline can feel grindy at times. At the very least, the quest requirements are varied enough to keep things interesting in the long run.
A good example of how experientially varied the quests can feel is how in one moment, within the same quest line, you can play the role of just another soldier in the battlefield, defeating enemies left and right. On the next moment you’re tasked with destroying a main destructive machine that is threatening the lives of your fellow soldiers. As the battle evolves and changes, you can then be given the role of a rescuer, assisting fallen and incapacitated comrades in the battlefield as your army retreats. This is then succeeded by another full assault done by you and your army after you’ve finally regrouped.
This kind of quest line makes the events within the battlefield feel much more immersive and wonderful as you’re given so many different tasks that doesn’t necessarily only revolve around the repetitive task of “Find enemy, kill enemy, make sure you kill x amount of enemy.”. Even the mini bosses within the quests don’t require you to just survive and deal as much damage as possible in any given time. There was a time where figuring out patterns and enemy mechanics was only an experience that was limited to just the raid or dungeon bosses within WoW. It’s very entertaining to see that even just the main quest enemies can have complicated mechanics you will have to figure out to defeat them.
To have the option of experiencing all the quests, one still has to level up. This used to be one of the tougher challenges in the vanilla version of the game as it took a long time to level oneself to that time’s level cap. Now, players are given an easier time to level up throughout the game, but not enough for me personally, as it can still feel flawed and time consuming.
Another thing that is new and worth mentioning is the War Mode system. Turning on War Mode will open up the option of fighting encountered enemy players in the battlefield who also have War Mode on (kinda like the old system in vanilla WoW). Having it turned on is rewarded by being given extra gold or items in the quests that you do. This is fascinating as it puts the added dangers within your control. This is also beneficial to players as their characters will no longer be segregated between PVP and non-PVP servers.
New dungeons and raids are also being introduced into the game, and I have to say that Blizzard took a lot of care into creating these game modes. The bosses are still going to be difficult. The amount of teamwork and coordination needed are still high. But this high level of difficulty is what makes these modes very fun overall. It’s still worth noting that these are very reliant on social abilities as well since forming your party and knowing how to work together with them is crucial in these modes.
A new interesting that warrants mentioning is a new game mode called Island Expeditions. This is an interesting 3 versus 3 game mode that can be unlocked for all of your characters after you finish a specific quest for one of them. The main goal in this game mode is to attain more Azerite than the opposing team within a given time limit. There are multiple ways of gaining Azerite, but the more common ways are by killing creatures in the island, and opening chests found there. The interesting thing about Island Expeditions is that you’re not actually playing against other plays but instead AI built by Blizzard. Because it’s AI, you can actually select your difficulty settings when playing this. Once you reach a certain amount of Azerite by playing this game mode over and over, you can gain rewards for it.
Warfronts are another new additional game mode. It is described as a large scale war-like event wherein you are able to play the game more like a Real-Time Strategy, much like the original Warcraft games WoW was spawned from. This is because you will be charged with commanding NPC units in battling other troops and bosses. Strategies that revolve around resource management and micro-management are much more important in this game mode. As exciting and wonderful this game mode sounds, sadly it’s one that this particular reviewer did not get the chance to play and therefore can’t fully comment on. It does sound fantastic though and probably worthy of obsessing over if RTSes are your thing.
Lastly, it is worth mentioning that new classes will be introduced in the game. Sadly this was not something that this reviewer was able to try out in the beta and so it would be unfair to comment on it too much. It can be still fun just as an extra added experience for players.
Overall the new gameplay features added into the game are very exciting and do add another layer of exciting game options for players. For long time players, this will probably be something that can spice up the game for them as it breaks from the monotonous modes they might have gone through and overplayed at this point. It could also give them other options of getting and claiming higher levels or rewards if the existing modes of play weren’t really their thing. With that said, there is still that scary lingering feeling that this might be a lot to handle for a casual gamer.
As it has always been, WoW is still beautiful in its visual design. The cities and landscapes that envelop the game have a very unique look that make them stand out from other fantasy lands and MMORPGs. Even with the addition of Zandalar and Kul’ Tiras, the new areas introduced in Battle for Azeroth, Blizzard still manages to make the overall world design feel cohesive and holistic.
Kul’ Tiras carries a similar aesthetic already existing in some of the areas of Azeroth as it is very reminiscent of the medieval look of the human cities in Azeroth. What sets it apart is that the culture in this land feels more influenced by the seafaring culture that the city seems to have. Therefore it has elements more commonly seen in fishing, naval, and pirating communities.
Zandalar, on the other hand, is an interesting locale as it has more of a Mayan influence on its design; if the Mayan race was comprised of Trolls and other humanoid creatures instead of Humans. This contrasts well against Kul’ Tiras as it very bright, much more similar to how Mayan cultures and cities are portrayed. This land is very fascinating as it feels more like the environment is telling the story of a culture, at least compared to Kul’ Tiras. This land is one of the main lands of the Troll race of this world and introducing it does a lot to give more context within the backstory behind the people.
These two new lands feel great when considering the already expansive and well thought out world. It feels horrible for me to say then that visually, especially compared to more modern MMORPGs, World of Warcraft: Battle of Azeroth still feels lacking. This is not something to be taken against the visual design or direction of the game. This is more a problem to be expected from using a fourteen-year-old game engine. It is still hard not to comment that the game looks old. It might be able to play in full HD or in 4k, but it definitely does not look like it’s capable of making full use of more modern video cards.
Final Verdict – 8/10
- For long time players there is more of everything (raids, dungeons, quests, etc.)
- Mechanically, the game has been simplified, so it’s more approachable for new players
- The new game modes are definitely fun and can give more varied experiences
- War Mode gives the choice to the players on whether they would rather quest peacefully, or live dangerously but be rewarded for it
- For long time players who have been complaining about it, this does feel like back to old business in terms of the rivalry between the Alliance and the Horde
- Visually, this game feels very old
- The level cap is even higher now and so it will take a while for players to experience the endgame
- Grinding is innate in the game, either for levels or for gear, so if that’s not your thing, this might feel bad for you
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is probably going to be another amazing addition to lineage of expansions that the game already has. If you’re looking to experience a well thought of and immersive fantasy world then WoW is still a very viable hole to dive into. It’s easy to recommend this game as millions of people still play it actively to this day; still sturdy as the most played MMORPG in the PCmarket.
It’s not a perfect game though, as visually it struggles to compete with a lot of games in the market, seeing that at its core it is a game from 2004. And jumping into the game as a new player may still feel quite daunting, even if leveling is slightly easier now.
Overall though, the pros do outweigh the cons for WoW’s latest expansion. Plus, playing Battle for Azeroth definitely brings back the old feelings of playing the original, vanilla game.
Game was reviewed by Contributor Charles Coralejo from Kontemplay! Check out their streams at www.twitch.tv/kontemplay